Labels: Garrus , Jack , joker , kaidan , Liara , Mass Effect 2 , Shepard , The Double
After spending almost my entire stash of credits and arranging to have the loot delivered to the Normandy I let Joker know that we were ready for that drink. He promised to meet us there. I notified EDI that non-essential crew, including Garuus and Jack who were with me, were off-duty and on shore leave until 0800 the following morning, ship time. That gave us the cover to shut off our comm units and secrete them in a potted plant on the way. Joker would probably just leave his on the bridge.
I’d give the skeleton crew that provided security and replenished supplies with a day’s leave tomorrow but I wanted to be sure that we could leave at a moment’s notice should the need arise. We browsed through a souvenir shop to kill time as we made our way to Eternity, the nearest bar. We found Joker in the farthest, darkest corner booth, behind some cheery, fern-like trees, sitting with the package.
I froze, unsure whether my eyes were playing tricks on my or if Kaidan really was grinning up at me, eyebrow raised in amusement. I’d missed that quirked brow so much over the past weeks. I wanted to fling myself on top of him and run my tongue over it, but first I had to convince my mouth to close and my feet to move. “It took you long enough to get here,” he said. I didn't know if he meant the lounge or Illium in general.
I looked at Joker who was smirking the way he always did when he’d pulled off a particularly shocking joke. Usually those involved interspecies nudity and various food products but none of them had stunned me like this. “You...you brought the package!” I spluttered at him.
Kaidan cocked his head in confusion. “The package?”
That broke my paralysis and the four of us burst out laughing. Kaidan joined us after a few moments, shaking his head. He stood and put an arm around Garrus and me and the three of us shared a little happy dance, feet flying and eyes sparkling, the way we had so long ago, mere months for me and well over two years for them. For the first time since I’d woken up on that stupid medical station I felt fully human again with my favorite two people in the world celebrating on either side of me. I heard Jack behind us muttering, “I can’t take you people anywhere.” We wound down and Kaidan and I slid into the curve of the booth opposite Joker.
Garrus went to buy a round of drinks and Jack shoved me closer to Kaidan so she could sit. He leaned in close and whispered, “Surprise,” and a shiver ran through me. I sat on my hands to keep them from running over his entire body right there at the table, to prevent them from grabbing his head and hauling him in for a thoroughly indecent kiss. I couldn’t think of anything else, could hear nothing over the roaring in my head as my brain shouted contradictory instructions at my body.
When Garrus arrived with the drinks I shot the whole thing, wincing at the burn and sticking my hand back into safekeeping. He’d bought mystery drinks, the scoundrel, but he looked almost as glad to be together again as I felt so I forgave him. I started to relax. My mind still spun but one thing stood out clearly. “You’re Joker’s contact with The Alliance?!” The two of them nodded, looking all too pleased at having put one over on me. They would pay for this, the cruel beasts. “So you really don’t believe what you said on Horizon? You knew where I was the whole time?” My voice rose at the end as I considered the implications of his leaving me in the hands of Cerberus, helplessly dead and defenseless.
“I’ve only known for a few weeks,” he protested, raising his hands. “Joker’s been undercover for eight months but they didn’t bring me into it until he let them know the project had succeeded. Until you were alive again, I believed that you were gone for good.”
His smile faded and his face showed a hint of the pain he’d endured. I shifted to put my hands more firmly under my legs, unsure whether a comforting hug would be welcome just yet or indeed if I could restrain myself once I got my arms around him. We sat, staring at each other in wonder, until Jack spoke up, oblivious to the depths into which she was jumping. “So this is Alenko? He doesn’t look like an L2.”
I laughed a little and introduced the two, glad that she’d bothered to put on the armored vest we’d bought. Kaidan looked surprised that she would be so blunt about a topic usually treated delicately, as though its mere mention would drive insane the people who carried the dangerous implants. “We’ve decided to consider her lack of tact refreshing,” I informed him, fluttering inside as that eyebrow again climbed his forehead.
Another round of drinks arrived and I freed a hand to take a slug of mine, keeping firm hold of the glass though Kaidan’s hand was mere inches from mine. The whole group was trading banter and getting a little rowdy, Jack included, when I felt Kaidan running a fingertip up and down the back of my hand. The resulting electricity sent goose flesh racing up my arm to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. A strange feeling bloomed in the back of my skull, a buzzing hum unlike anything I’d heard before. Kaidan jumped back, crashing into Joker, his eyes wide. “Holy shit, Shepard, you’ve got an implant!”
I gaped back. “Holy shit, Alenko, you’ve turned me on!” Joker and Jack snickered at that from either side of us while Garrus choked on his drink but I barely heard them. “I’ve never been able to get it to do anything before and now it’s practically crackling. What did you do to me?”
“We have to leave, now,” he said. “If you haven’t gotten any training in controlling that thing you’re likely to knock Garrus out of that window if you sneeze. Why the hell would they give you an implant in the first place?” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter right now. We’ve got to find a place you—and everyone else—can be safe.” Jack had leapt out of the booth already so Kaidan shoved me out of the seat, grabbed my hand, and hauled me out of Eternity.
“Maybe we should ask Liara if there's somewhere we can use,” I suggested as he pulled me down the stairs.
“She was on my list of people to see,” he answered. He sounded distracted, casting about for a relatively clear path through the crowded space. The more agitated he got the more my head felt stuffed with energy. As little as I wanted to, I pulled my hand from his and rubbed it with the other. He stopped for a moment, looking around to see why I had, then nodded. “We have got to get this under control. If I can't even touch you...”
No swooning, I told myself sternly as Kaidan realized what he'd said and one corner of his mouth rebelled against his serious expression, and no smooches on that little dimple. We made our way across the trading floor to the stair the concierge had indicated and climbed to Liara's office.
An Asari sitting in the alcove at the top introduced herself as Nyxeris and said that I was expected. How could innocent little Liara suddenly be so important as to need a receptionist to keep out the riffraff? Other than a curious glance at Kaidan she made no effort to stop me from barging into the office. We walked in on Liara threatening someone, the stern voice and sheer violence completely unlike the awkward, shy person I had known. She turned her head when she heard the door. When she saw us she cut off the call but we'd heard plenty by then. Kaidan glanced at me and I shrugged slightly. I hadn't talked to her any more recently than he had, probably less.
Before we could accomplish further non-verbal exchanges, Liara had crossed her office and was rubbing her cheek against mine in the peculiarly-Asari expression of desire that masqueraded as a greeting between close friends. It had been creepy before and now it was doubly so with the eye-watering spike of humming in the back of my head. She released me with a confused look and offered a hand to Kaidan, distinctly cold if not downright unfriendly, and expressed her surprise at seeing him with me. Was she still jealous? I rubbed my face to get rid of the feel of her touch there.
I asked her about the threats she’d been making. She informed me that she had become an information broker and a powerful influence on Illium but she wouldn't specify why or how except to say that she intended to take down the Shadow Broker, the mysterious force behind so many political events in the galaxy, whose network of spies and informants stretched through every level of all species on the Citadel. That raised more questions than it answered and we pushed for details, brushing aside her evasions. I'd completely forgotten why we'd come to see her in the first place. She was so obviously hiding something. What sort of businessperson could she be if she couldn't even bluff?
Finally, she gave way before our combined questioning. “The Shadow Broker had your body, Shepard,” she explained. “I stole it from him but what was I going to do with it? You'd already been memorialized on the Citadel. I intended to build my own private grave for you but then Cerberus caught me. They said they could bring you back, that I didn't have to let you go...”
I struggled to hold my gorge. All of this talk about me as dead meat wasn't mixing well with the drinks I'd had. Kaidan's reaction was less nauseous. “You what?!” he bellowed, flaring blue as his biotics rose with his anger.